Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 393

Issue # 393                                                        Week ending 25th March 2017

What Do You Actually Get in Your Fish and Chips? By Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

It was never straightforward asking for a fish supper in downtown Stornoway back in the day. As soon as the words left your lips, your server would reel off a selection of available fish, depending on how the local fishing boats Ripple and Astra had done that week. There would be cod, of course, and haddock. An exotic option was whiting and if the wholesale price was right you would even be offered a man-size lump of deep-fried skate.

When I arrived in Stornoway with heather growing out my ears, I had no idea what to ask for. My education came only when dear Effie in the Church Street Chip Shop, sadly no longer with us, took me aside. She had two cups of tea, two forks and two lumps of fried fish wrapped up in the previous day’s Daily Express. Well, the newspaper had to reasonably fresh too, she would always say.

Together we had a tasting and cleansed our palates with sips of tea courtesy of Basildon Bond. Or was it Brooke Bond? It was decades ago so how am I supposed to remember? Effie invited me to nibble a bit of each. It was obvious. The cod had no flavour but the haddock was a tad fishy - cos it was a fish, see? Yeah, the haddock was much better.

She giggled: “Trobhad, a ghraidh. It’s only people who don’t really know what they’re talking about who order cod. Oh, and the English - and a few fashion-conscious people from Point who read in the newspaper all that nonsense about cod being more popular.”  It was always the heavenly haddock for me after that. Lovely Effie took time out to put me right on such a crucial question and one which most people, and of course Rudhachs and Sassennachs, take pot luck with.

In London however, I had to learn a new menu. Every chippie in the smoke sells rock and chips. Imagine? I had a landlady once who spent so long on the phone that my scampi came out of her fryer - all black, hard and impenetrable. But I was not going to have an ollack with my chips and pickled onion.

Rock was short for rock salmon but it is not a salmon - or even a species known to science. I am no ichthyologist, which according to the big fellow in the quiz show The Chase is an expert in fish science, but a rock does not swim and I want my fish to at least have a couple of eyes and a tail. Another must-have would be some kind of fins. Oh yes, any fish going in my gob has to be a bit finish. Rock salmon is actually a made-up name for a spiny dogfish. Yeah well, you can see why they wouldn’t want that name on the menu.

Another fish that is getting popular all over the UK is hake. It’s nice and flaky and many people see it as the finest of all the white fish to devour with a handful of chipped root veg. In parts of Ireland, they reckon eating hake is a religious experience. So much so that one chippy has a beckoning sign which says: “Come in, for God’s hake.”

Of course, what all this is about is the Marine Conservation Society sounding a warning last week that haddock may have to be withdrawn because stocks are running low. It reckoned it will have to erase the fish from the Good Fish Guide. Well, if it did ... That brought a storm of criticism from people saying they had got their figures wrong, that they were misleading people and, well, that these MCS experts were a lot of numpties.

Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong has landed a broadside calling for a retraction of, what he called, these “false” claims. And Mike Park, the big boss at the haddock defence league, otherwise known as the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association, is threatening to haul the lot of them to court. Meanwhile, the MCS is back-pedalling faster than a tourist who finds the brae at Bayble is steeper than any of the guidebooks suggest. It didn’t mean that. It is misunderstood. Yeah, right.

While all this row has been going on, some Stornoway people have been showing they love the old haddie. One cove went into the fishmonger’s with a haddock under his arm and asked: “Do you have any fishcakes?” The purveyor of fresh fish said they did and asked him what he was going to be cooking that night. “Nothing. It’s for him,” he said, nodding at the haddock. “It’s his birthday.”

The Roman Fort at Inchtuthil, Perthshire
Background
Inchtuthil fort was one of the most significant forts in the chain of Roman forts that once ran across Britain. One of the last to be constructed, the fort stood at the strategically significant point where the River Tay passes through the Dunkeld Gorge. Constructed as a base for Agricola's campaign to subdue the "Fierce red haired long limbed Caledonians", led by a Pictish chieftain named by the Romans as "Calgacus", Inchtuthil was to be one of the largest forts ever built in Britain. Never entirely completed, the fort was abandoned in or about AD87, as changed political and strategic priorities meant that Agricola and his troops were recalled to mainland Europe to suppress rebellion in Germany. Agricola never returned. Totally self sufficient, Inchtuthil could house, feed and train a complete Roman legion.

"SPQR" Senatus Populusque Romanus meaning "The Senate and the People of Rome".

It is thought that the XXth legion was based at Inchtuthil. They had their own 64 ward hospital, six granaries, all weather indoor and cavalry training schools, centurions houses and barrack blocks, baths, stabling for over 1,000 horses and mules and the all important fabrica. The fabrica was a huge building covering an area approximately half the size of a football pitch and was a Roman metalwork factory. As well as arms and armour, the blacksmiths produced everyday metalwork for the fort - door latches, horseshoes, and iron nails.  Agricola's plans were never realised. His recall to Rome meant the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire's influence in Britain. Being a thorough man, he was careful to instruct his troops not to leave anything behind that an enemy could make use of against his retreating army. Inchtuthil was dismantled, piece by piece, building by building, the useful goods packed up and sent home to Rome. What could not be salvaged was burnt or hidden from view. Gradually over the years the site became hidden as the strong forces of nature reclaimed the land, but the memories lived on in the minds of men that there had been Romans at Inchtuthil. Over 1500 years later in 1503, Inchtuthil was described as a 'Pictish Town' by Hector Boece in his Scotorum Historiae.  Inchtuthil's modern history and the start of the long journey to discover the secrets of the fort began in 1755 when the great cartographer William Roy, mapped the site as part of the Ordnance Survey. He recognised that there were man-made ditches and embankments in the peaceful Perthshire countryside.  Preliminary excavations of the site started in 1757 when William Maitland found evidence of a 'town' by finding the bath house. Only Roman towns and forts of any significant size had a bath house so this was a clue to the size of the fort. His evidence was published in his 'History and Antiquities of Scotland'. Inchtuthil was" always an important site. It was, and still is, the only known large Roman military camp site that has not subsequently been built over or significantly ploughed, so had lain undisturbed until the archaeologists began to uncover its secrets.

20th Century Archaeology
The first twentieth century excavations were started in 1901, at the invitation of the then owner of the site, Sir Alexander Muir Mackenzie of Delvine and carried out under the auspices of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. They discovered and mapped the general layout of the site and re-found William Maitland's bath house (the bath house illustrated on the right is one on the Antonine Wall at Bearsden near Glasgow). No significant finds were made of artefacts - the Romans had done a good job of clearing out anything that might be of use to the locals.  In 1919, Sir George Macdonald, reconsidered the results from the 1901 dig, and accepted 'that Inchtuthil was almost certainly Agricola's base before the battle of Mons Graupius and... was also held by the Romans for a good many years afterwards. Eighteen years later in 1937, a key player in the story of Inchtuthil, Ian Richmond, became more interested in the potential for excavation at the site. He planned to start digging in the summer of 1938, but increasing political tension in Europe meant that the dig had to be postponed for a good number of years. Finally, digging started at the site in September 1952, led by Ian Richmond. 'The main objective is the recovery of the history of the fortress, and a complete plan of its elaborate timber framed buildings', stated Richmond. Gradually, over the next 13 years more and more of the principal buildings of the site were mapped and excavated.

Hidden Hoard of Nails
In 1960 came the discovery that catapulted Inchtuthil into the public consciousness - The discovery of a huge hoard of Roman Nails in the remains of the Fabrica.  We will never know why these nails were left behind, perhaps they were too heavy to carry, perhaps transport had run short, perhaps the fortress was under attack. The secret of why the nails were left was lost when the last Roman quartermaster left the fort for Rome.  The nails were found in a pit specially dug for the purpose in the South East corner of the Fabrica. Dug to a depth of 12 feet, ten tons of iron nails had been thrown into the pit and covered with 6 feet of clean, beaten earth. The ancient Caledonians prized iron far above gold and silver and an iron mass of this magnitude could be converted by them into a veritable arsenal of weapons with which to attack the Romans.  That is why great care had been taken in concealing the nails. That care resulted in the nails staying hidden for nearly 1,900 years until their discovery in 1960. The top ton or so had rusted solid, forming a protective crust which had absorbed the small amounts of oxygen that had penetrated the close packed earth. That absorbency had helped to protect the rest of the hoard from rust. Some of the most perfectly preserved specimens came out nearly as shiny and bright as the day they were buried.  The excitement that this find caused was immense. Every major museum in the world clamoured to have its own set of Inchtuthil nails, scholars and metallurgists wanted sets for study and, most extraordinarily, the general public wanted to own a small piece of Roman history for themselves. Nails were sold from the site to finance further digging but no more finds of this magnitude were ever made.  Inchtuthil isn't far from the famous tourist attraction of the the Meikleour Beech hedge, which stands 36 metres (120 feet) high and a third of a mile long east of Dunkeld on the A93. But Inchtuthil is further west, south of the A984 at Spittalfield, along minor farm roads, south of Delvine.

Trump Slump Sees Scots Parents Ditch Donald Name
It is a name given to Scottish kings and first ministers, but Donald has now fallen drastically out of favour.  A mere seven boys were named Donald last year in Scotland – the lowest number since records began and a 200 per cent drop since 2014, the year before Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency.  While the use of traditional names has waned, the slump in Donald’s popularity is especially pronounced. It is a trend bound up with the “Trump effect”, according to experts in onomatology, the study of the history and use of proper names. They said the divisive politics of the US president had probably consigned the forename to irrelevance for a generation.  It promises to be an inglorious period for a name given to not one but three Scottish kings, the most notable being the 9th-century Donald II, fondly known as “Donald the Madman”.  As recently as 1977, some 127 boys were named Donald, National Records of Scotland figures show. Since 2000, however, numbers have hovered around 20 before plummeting to joint 442nd place in 2016 alongside curiosities such as Che, Eden and Lomond.  Carole Hough, professor of onomastics at the University of Glasgow, said although traditional names were not in vogue, the collapse in Donald’s use was acute.  Dr Cleveland Evans, an onomastics specialist at Bellevue University in Nebraska, agreed: “Donald was a very common name in the US in the early 20th century – it was in the top ten – but it’s gone out of fashion. I’m sure Trump is further suppressing it.”  Trump was named after Donald Smith, his mother’s grandfather, a Lewis fisherman who was killed when a squall overturned his boat off Vatisker.  The name obviously means something to Trump and seems to symbolise his mother’s ancestry,” suggested Richard Coates, professor in linguistics at the University of the West of England.  Having named his own son after him, Trump evidently holds the forename in high regard, to the extent that he has attempted to monetise it. US Patent and Trademark Office records show that in 1999 he applied unsuccessfully to trademark the term “The Donald” for alcoholic cocktail products.  For well-kent Donalds in Scotland, the sullying of a proud name has been a bitter blow. “I suspect Donald will be a lot less popular in years to come because of Trump,” said Donald Anderson, former leader of the City of Edinburgh Council. “We need a character called Donald on Game Of Thrones to make it popular again.”  Some Donalds, however, believe they will overcome their political namesake. “I was actually born David and renamed Donald after being adopted. I’ve always loved its Scottishness,” enthused Donald Smith, director of Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland.  “As for the Trump fella, we’ll outlive him. Donalds of the world should unite. There’s still a lot more of us about.”          

£30m Facelift for Castle Unveiled

The cost of turning Inverness Castle into a "must-see" visitor attraction will be around £30 million, according to the man behind the project.  Plans are in the early stages, but a museum and gallery, restaurants and shops have been mooted for the 19th century building, along with a viewing platform in the north tower which is due to open next month.  Inverness Castle project development manager Graham Watson is in the process of preparing a business case for the attraction.  Half of the project costs will be paid for by the City Deal and Mr Watson is hoping to secure an £8 million grant from the National Lottery. The rest will be paid for through Highland Council’s capital programme, to be agreed by the new councillors following May’s election.  Mr Watson said the grant application was time-consuming and the first of a two-stage process would not be completed until June next year and may take until 2020 to finish.  "I know there is an expectation that things will happen very quickly but the courts don’t move out until 2019 and the other driver is we won’t have approval of the lottery funding to even go to stage two until a year in June," he said.  In the meantime, a working group is considering what the castle, built as a court in the 1830s, could become when the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) moves to a new purpose-built justice centre in Inverness.  Mr Watson stressed that no details had been set in stone yet because it was important to ask local people what they would like to see in the building. He will also be travelling across the Highlands on the hunt for interesting community stories which can be told.  "We do have a vision though, and that is for a sustainable and viable must-see visitor attraction which celebrates the spirit of the Highlands," he said.  "We want new and returning visitors but we also want it to be embraced by the people of the Highlands and to inspire all to visit other parts of the Highlands. When people leave the castle we want people to think of the Highlands as somewhere they want to come back to or even live and work in."  He added: "This won’t just be a visitor centre, we want it to be something the people of the Highlands love and value.  It’s going to be the face and first step of a City Deal showing what the Highlands could be in the future.  If we end up with something that is only attractive to tourists and not liked by the local community, then we have not succeeded."  Keen to make it an affordable attraction, there are plans to keep entry fees low by opening shops and restaurants on the site to boost income. And it is hoped the attraction will be open every day and into the evening to allow as many people as possible to visit.  "We might end up trying to partially open [while work is ongoing] so we can provide some kind of public access because we understand that people are keen to get into the building," Mr Watson said.  "This is the stage we should be being ambitious and not restraining ourselves. If it turns out we can’t afford it, we can look at it again."

Super Fit Roddy Riddle Becomes First Scot to Finish Epic Race

Super athlete Roddy Riddle has become the first Scot to finish a gruelling race across the frozen wastes of the Arctic Circle.  Mr Riddle, of Inverness, completed the 6633 Arctic Ultra – described as one of the world’s toughest, coldest and windiest ultra foot races – in second place and a day ahead of the race deadline.  By crossing the finish line on the banks of the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk in northern Canada, he also claimed the distinction of being the first type 1 diabetic to complete the 350-mile challenge.  The former Scottish international cyclist took part in the event last year but was forced to give up on the seventh day due to back pain.  He vowed to return however, and in a social media posting after the race he revealed his delight and satisfaction, noting "unfinished business taken care of". He continued: "I’m the first Scotsman to have ever finished the race, throw in a cheeky second place and finish just over a day ahead of the race deadline in just under seven days, but the most important thing is raising awareness for what can be achieved with type 1 diabetes and to show it shouldn’t stop you achieving your goals in life."  The initial section of the route was through stunted forest but competitors then entered some of the world’s most remote, inhospitable – and stunning – landscapes where the winds can be ferocious. The final stretch, comprising a 120-mile winter ice road, was an ultimate test of the mental and physical toughness of the nine remaining athletes.  Mr Riddle, who has become an ambassador for living with diabetes, managed his condition during the gruelling event.  He has also completed numerous long races including the punishing 230k Marathon de Sables across the Sahara Desert.

Fishy Goings on with Rise of Illegal Salmon Sales in Caithness
Salmon is illegally being sold door to door in Caithness as warnings have been put out to establishments and the public not to be ignorant of breaking the law by purchasing from poachers.  Caithness District Salmon Fishery Board has reported salmon being illegally caught by poachers at rivers in the county who then try and sell it on.  There is a ban on selling rod caught salmon as well as a three year ban on netting salmon at sea in a bid to boost the species population.  It has been reported poachers are attempting to sell salmon valued between £50 to £70  door to door at businesses and people's homes in Caithness for as low as £10.

Energy Service Firm Enerpro Starts Up in Thurso

A trio of former offshore oil workers have used the downturn in the industry to establish a growing business which has led them to open a base in Thurso.  Enerpro was founded in Aberdeen in 2015 by David Wade, from Thurso, and Hugh MacLeod, from Berriedale, along with their business partner Gordon Farquhar from Aberdeen.  Their venture offers a construction support service to companies working in the energy sector.  The firm, which recently moved into an office in Thurso’s Princes Street, has already employed a number of Caithness workers on its contracts and is confident about its future prospects.  The men created the business in the wake of the recession in the oil industry to offer its clients a cost-effective way to carry out maintenance, engineering and construction support to firms operating in the energy sector.  After opening up in Aberdeen, they decided to spread their wings to form a base in the far north and they have already employed a considerable number of staff from the county to work on its contracts.  Mr Wade said all three company founders worked in a rig reactivation and development team for a company in Aberdeen for five years and have also worked for a number of leading oil and gas service companies, as well as industry-leading drilling contractors.  While acknowledging Caithness is prominently associated with the nuclear industry, Mr Wade said Enerpro specialises in providing services to a variety of energy-based industries. The 30-year-old said: “The reason we opened our office in Thurso was we were working on a project in Reading for AWE and they recognised our northern accent and asked if we offered our services to Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL).  After that, we went to a local supply day event in Thurso Cinema last year. The feedback we received from DSRL management was promising and they indicated they would gladly work with a new fresh company and said they would benefit from our experience in different industries.”  Mr Wade added: “We then decided to open our second office in Thurso.  The nuclear site was a plus for opening in Thurso but it wasn’t the only reason.  We are offering a full turnkey service to many energy sectors and we believe there isn’t one company up north that does that.”  Enerpro is involved in a project in Norway for a cementing company that is working on a semi-submersible drilling rig where out of their 15 personnel working on the project, five come from Caithness. Its personnel range from fabricators, welders, level three riggers, advanced scaffolders and electricians.  The company has completed several design projects at Dounreay and has also completed rope access projects offshore.  Mr Wade said it wants to take advantage of the experience which exists in Caithness to help the business grow as well as offer new work opportunities to young people as they develop the company.  He said: “The Enerpro Group aims to a be a leading design and construction support to the multi-market industry concentrating in nuclear, infrastructures and oil and gas.  We believe Caithness is filled with highly experienced personnel who have a great appetite to work hard in every opportunity given to them.  For years, we have employed people from Caithness in the offshore industry and plan to do the same for Enerpro.  We also plan to take on apprentices and graduates as we grow. We firmly believe working in various industries will give our staff the best opportunity to grow and develop their trades.”

'Vikings' Take Fight Over Treasure Hoard to Scottish Parliament

A group of "Viking" campaigners have taken their fight to the Scottish Parliament in order to keep a 1,000-year-old treasure hoard on display in the south of the country.  Hundreds of Viking objects - including coins, jewellery and crosses - were discovered in Dumfries and Galloway in 2014 and are said to provide an "important window on the tenth century". With a panel set to recommend where the items should be displayed, the Galloway Viking Hoard (GVH) group delivered a 5,000-strong petition to the Scottish Government. The petition urges ministers to support a dedicated centre in Kirkcudbright rather than move the hoard to National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh.  In addition, a letter backing the campaign has been signed by the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, Dame Barbara Kelly and former Tory MSP Sir Alex Fergusson.  GVH campaign chair Cathy Agnew said: "The message from Galloway, Scotland and around the world is very clear - the hoard was buried in Galloway for safekeeping 1,000 years ago and that is where its home should be. We have huge support from the general public, academics, politicians of all parties and many others. It would be a travesty if their voices were ignored.  If the hoard goes to the enormous national museum in Edinburgh, already packed with treasures, it will completely undermine the spirit of 2017 as Scotland's Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology."

Male Osprey Flies in to Loch of the Lowes Reserve to Await Mate

The first part of a popular flying double act has arrived in Dunkeld. For osprey conservationists, March is a tense time when the birds return to Scotland to nest and at Loch of the Lowes in Perthshire, male bird LM12 has just dropped in. A male osprey, identified as LM12, father of the last two seasons’ broods, touched down at the Loch of the Lowes reserve near Dunkeld.  Ending a long migration from West Africa, this was the earliest appearance of a resident bird in the nearly 50 years that ospreys have occupied the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s reserve.  LM12 is not ringed, so it took detailed observation of his features and behaviour by staff to confirm his identity.  Charlotte Fleming, Scottish Wildlife Trust Perthshire ranger said: “From the views we’ve had of his distinctive chest pattern and long wing tips we are as sure as we can be that it is LM12.  He has also made himself well and truly at home, bringing in sticks and preparing the nest, which is further proof that he is the resident male.”  His mate LF15 could arrive any day. The pair fledged three chicks in both 2015 and 2016.

Security Has Been Stepped Up At Locations in Scotland Following the London Terror Attack.
Armed patrols have been increased around key sites in the Scottish capital, while police patrols have also been upped elsewhere across the country.  Police Scotland Chief Constable Phil Gormley, who confirmed the moves, described them as "reassurance measures". Officers are also continuing to "dynamically review" safety and security plans and operations in the wake of the incident at Westminster, and they have urged members of the public to stay alert.  Mr Gormley briefed colleagues during a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) board earlier on Wednesday.  He told the meeting: "This afternoon there has been an attack on Westminster Parliament. It's been confirmed it's being treated by the Metropolitan Police as a terrorist incident. "The Scottish Parliament has suspended its deliberations for the day. We're putting in place some reassurance measures as we sit here. We have increased armed patrols around key sites in Edinburgh and there will be higher-profile patrols across key locations in Scotland."  The Chief Constable went on: "We've put in place what you would expect in terms of contingencies and reassurance patrols.  We've uplifted and deployed a number of armed officers into key places so they are able to respond if the need suggests and we're working very closely with colleagues in London to understand what exactly has happened and what we need to do to support them and to keep Scotland safe.  Our thoughts, good wishes and concerns are with colleagues and members of the public who appear to have been injured and lost their lives in Westminster."  Assistant Chief Constable Bernard Higgins said the force is monitoring the situation in England closely.  In a statement issued on Wednesday, he said: "Following the incident in London today, Police Scotland continues to dynamically review all safety and security plans and operations.  I would urge the public to remain alert and report any suspicious activity to the police."  Security at the Scottish Parliament has been heightened as a precaution, with officials stressing there is no specific threat to Holyrood or Scotland.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government has been liaising with Police Scotland, while Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has been briefed by the Chief Constable.  Officials have held a Scottish Government resilience (SGoRR) meeting with the force "to ensure that any potential implications for Scotland are considered," she said.

Ardgowan Distillery Seeks £17m After Green Light

A planned new distillery with historic links to -Robert the Bruce has launched a bid to raise £17 million and appointed independent chartered accountants Campbell Dallas amid plans to be operational in 2019.  Construction is set to start later this year on the Ardgowan Distillery, near Inverkip, Renfrewshire, having recently obtained planning permission from Inverclyde Council.  It is now seeking investors to build a lowland malt whisky distillery and visitor attraction on the Ardgowan Estate – where Robert the Bruce was involved in two battles. The project has already raised more than £500,000 in seed capital and is being advised by Campbell Dallas’s corporate finance team, led by Harro Leusink.  Ardgowan Distillery chairman and former Macallan managing director Willie Phillips said the venture is “a -terrific commercial proposition and Campbell Dallas is the right firm to assist us with this fundraising”.  He added that the distillery will be “scalable”, with capacity to extend production with some further investment.  Murdoch McLennan, partner and head of brewing and distilling at Campbell Dallas, said: “Whisky distilleries are a well-recognised investment opportunity which can achieve strong capital returns and dividend distribution in the medium to long term.”

Digital Strategy Vows Superfast Broadband Roll-out Across Whole of Scotland

The Scottish Government has pledged to ensure the whole of Scotland has superfast broadband in the next five years.  The Government's new digital strategy also aims to double the number of digital jobs to 150,000 by 2021, and develop "world-leading" resilience against cyber-attack.  Officials define superfast broadband as delivering headline download speeds of 30mb per second or higher and the Government's paper reveals this covers 83% of Scotland - but 46% of rural areas.  Further pledges in the policy include creating a digital schools programme to increase the number of coding clubs and £36 million of loans for businesses to improve digital skills.  Launching the strategy during a visit in Glasgow, Finance Secretary Derek Mackay said: "Digital is transforming the way we live. It is connecting us faster than ever before while putting more power into the hands of service users.  There is a huge opportunity here and now to ensure that people, businesses and organisations across Scotland are given the tools and skills they need to harness this potential.  Our vision is for Scotland to become even more digitally competitive and attractive. By developing our existing workforce and increasing our digital capabilities across society and the business community, we will ensure that our citizens have the opportunity to improve their digital skills with everyone who wants to get connected able to do so, and public services designed by and for citizens that are secure. This will in turn will have a positive impact on growing our economy."

Major Military Exercise Off NW Sutherland Starts on Sunday
North and West Sutherland will experience major military activity when Exercise Joint Warrior gets underway this weekend.  Thousands of Service personnel from all three branches of the UK military, and personnel from allied and partner nations, will take part in the exercise which is scheduled to begin on Sunday and run on until April 6.  Exercise activity in the north of Scotland will include:  • Live firing on the Cape Wrath weapons range as well as GPS denial operations conducted during limited periods at both Cape Wrath and Loch Ewe.  • Naval activity off the north and west coasts with many of the 35 naval units taking part operating in these areas.  • RAF Lossiemouth hosting aircraft during the fortnight with around 34 fixed wing and 18 rotary aircraft from France, Germany, the UK and US participating in Joint Warrior.  All relevant authorities, including aviation and maritime communities have been consulted and procedures are in place for unforeseen eventualities. One of the largest military exercises in Europe, Joint Warrior will see maritime activity involving units from Denmark, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the US. Around 430 additional personnel from the Joint Tactical Exercise Planning Staff – or JTEPS – will be co-ordinating the giant exercise from HM Naval Base Clyde’s Maritime Operations Centre.  Meanwhile, on land, 16 Air Assault Brigade Headquarters and the associated Battle Group, 2 Para, will join troops from the Netherlands, Sweden and the US.  The exercise will provide the UK, allies and partner nations the opportunity to practice the vital skills needed on the modern battlefield.  During the fortnight skills such as maritime task force training, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, mine counter measures training, maritime security operations, close air support, intelligence gathering, electronic warfare training, and GPS denial operations will all be practised.  Exercise Joint Warrior is held twice a year, in the spring and autumn, and participation is open to all NATO allies and partners, providing high quality operational training.

'Appalling' BT Service Could Drive Firms Out of Business

British Telecom and its subsidiary BT Openreach are facing intense fire from frustrated householders and business operators in north and north west Sutherland over its "appalling" service.  The manager of the Assynt Foundation, Gordon Robertson, this week claimed its fragile accommodation business is "on its knees" because it has been without a phone and broadband service since the start of the year.  And householders in Skerray and Melness have also spoken out after enduring an intermittent phone and broadband service since Christmas and none at all since a lightning strike in mid-February – although most lines are now reconnected.  The phone line at Glencanisp Lodge, headquarters of the Assynt Foundation, went down on January 10 and has yet to be reconnected. The organisation’s service provider is CHESS Telecom but the line is in the ownership of British Telecom.  It is BT’s Openreach arm that is responsible for sending engineers to fix faults with phone lines and switch on broadband.  Mr Robertson said the Foundation had earmarked the start of the year to launch a new B&B business on the back of NC500 but were now unable to do so because of the lack of communication links. Staff are unable to work at Glencanisp Lodge because of the situation and have been sent home.  He said: "It is absolutely outrageous. We are trying to run a business but have been brought to our knees."  Mr Robertson is travelling the two miles to Lochinver on a daily basis in order to contact British Telecom on his mobile phone – there is poor mobile phone coverage at Glencanisp Lodge.  But he accused BT’s call centre of being "dishonest" and giving him misinformation contrary to that he had been given by a local engineer.  Meanwhile the remote north coast communities of Skerray and Melness have suffered nearly three months’ disruption to their phone and Broadband services. Householders have had only intermittent phone services since Christmas and none at all since a lightning strike in mid February. The has led to the closure of Skerray post office on a number of occasions with local people unable to pick up their pensions.

Survey reveals high trust in the Scottish Government
High trust in the Scottish Government and strong support for its influence over the way Scotland is run are two key findings in a survey published on Friday.  The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2016 found that almost two thirds (65%) of respondents trusted the Scottish Government to work in Scotland’s best interests – the fourth highest figure recorded since devolution.  In addition, three quarters (75%) of people believe that the Scottish Parliament ought to have the most influence over the way Scotland is run - the second-highest figure ever recorded.  Commenting on the statistics Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution Derek Mackay said: “It’s clear that the people of Scotland trust the Scottish Government to listen to their views, and act fairly and in their best interests. Our commitment to being the most open, transparent and accessible Government ever is reflected in the Survey’s responses, showing that our approach to travelling cabinets, wide-ranging online engagement and public meetings is giving people the chance to tell us what matters to them.  The economy continues to be the highest priority for the people of Scotland, which is a priority we share and we are continuing to make progress on our ambition to boost inclusive economic growth, and raise productivity.  Three quarters of people believe the Scottish Government should have the most influence over the way Scotland is run and we are committed to making sure those voices are heard. With a raft of new powers around employability, social security and our public finances coming into effect next month, we are using all the powers at our disposal to create a fairer and more prosperous country.  We have set out our commitment to protecting Scotland’s interests, and will now take the steps necessary to ensure that Scotland has a choice of whether to follow the UK to a hard Brexit – or to become an independent country, able to secure a real partnership of equal
s with the rest of the UK and our own relationship with Europe.”